People often assume their new homes – especially luxury homes – are up-to-date on building codes and include the best construction standards. Homes need to be checked every 5-10 years for the ability to keep heat and cool air in or out, or else homeowners unknowingly pay extra in energy bills to compensate for home deficiencies. Not only is upgrading a home’s energy efficiency good for the environment, but high-efficiency homes allow homeowners to pay less each month on utility bills and may increase the home’s value as an investment.
Perform a DIY Home Energy Inspection
The most effective way to become energy efficient is to hire a home energy audit specialist. These professionals perform a thorough energy use audit on your home using a variety of tests detailing how much energy your home uses, ranks your home according to local benchmarks of similar homes, and identifies areas for improvement. The home energy specialist will also consider homeowner behavior like whether people are active throughout the day, the average thermostat settings for each season, and which rooms are used the most.
If you’re not willing to hire a professional, consider performing your own home energy assessment. All homes, old and new, likely have areas of improvement, and this checklist can be performed without hassle:
Replace light bulbs
The lowest-hanging fruit for greater energy efficiency is to replace all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Both CFLs and LEDs require less energy to produce light, and both have far longer lifespans than incandescent bulbs. CFLs are typically a bit cheaper than LEDs, but LEDs are a far more cost-effective bulb in the long-run. LEDs have a longer lifespan than CFLs (50,000 est. hours for LEDs vs. 8,000 est. hours with CFLs), and LEDs are extremely durable while CFLs tend to break and can emit mercury.
To identify invisible air drafts through the house, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues. Turn off all appliances like the stove and water heater. Turn on the kitchen exhaust fan or use a large window fan to blow air out of the house. Then, walk room-to-room by any exterior walls, basements, windows, and outlets with a lighted incense stick. Any changes in the incense’s smoke trail will indicate hidden air drafts and identify areas for you to fix.
If your home was constructed more than 10 years ago, it’s very likely the insulation levels installed are far behind today’s recommended insulation standards. Today’s home energy prices and the likelihood of future energy prices have continually increased the recommended levels of insulation a builder should install.
One of the most common areas for insulation improvement is the attic door. If it’s not as insulated as the walls and roof, it likely contributes to heat or air conditioning loss. Checking for insulation throughout the house is much more difficult to do yourself, so it’s recommended you hire a professional who has the technology to detect what – if any – insulation is behind your walls. Additionally, there are new types of extremely effective insulation which weren’t available to builders in the past, such as insulation batts, foam board insulation, spray foam insulation, vapor barriers, and more.
Check your appliances
Large appliances which are older can be serious energy offenders. Most appliance manufacturers compete for the U.S. EPA and Department of Energy “Energy Star” label, which is given to products which meet the federal energy efficiency guidelines. Products with energy star labels can save you anywhere from $35 to $70 per year on energy savings, which end up being $525 to $1,050 after the average lifecycle of 15-years.
Additionally, you can adjust your dish and clothes washer machines settings to only use the cold-water mode when you’re dealing with oily stains on clothes or dishes. Using proper soaps and detergents with cool water is just as effective as using warm or hot water, and requires less use of your hot water heater.
If your home doesn’t have a programmable thermostat, it’s time to jump on board the home technology train. Programmable thermostats are becoming standard in many apartments and homes, because they can adjust settings automatically and create schedules based on when people are active within a residence. Nest, Google’s programmable thermostat, sends you monthly reports of energy savings or gains due to how often your air conditioner or heater ran, helping you make smarter decisions with home temperature with actual cost values.